By TERRY LYNAM //
As we move beyond what has to be counted among the most acrimonious election seasons in history, hopes for a new era of bipartisan collaboration hinge – at least in the short term – on whether elected leaders at all levels of government can stop politicizing the coronavirus.
With the number of daily U.S. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations hitting all-time highs, it’s time for all elected leaders to set aside their political agendas and recognize the serious health consequences of the next wave.
It’s clear from the numbers, and the assessments of the nation’s most-respected public health officials, that we are not, in President Trump’s words, “rounding the turn.” With cold temperatures and holidays coming soon, there’s a strong risk that things could get progressively worse, particularly if people continue to deny – or minimize – the threat of one of the deadliest pandemics in modern history.
Those who continue to cling to their “Constitutional right” to flout mask requirements likely haven’t lost a loved one to the virus. Nor have they taken the time to speak to the nation’s healthcare providers, who’ve witnessed the death of 240,000-plus Americans, including many of their colleagues. The courageous critical-care specialists working in U.S. hospitals can offer chilling accounts of the disease’s toll on the lungs and other parts of the human body.
Certainly, we cannot ignore the staggering economic toll the virus has taken on the U.S. economy. There were 10 million fewer Americans working in October than in February, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Their desire to return to the normalcy of our pre-pandemic lives is totally understandable, but the economic risks of a new surge – another round of business closures, more layoffs – promise even worse devastation.
There’s encouraging news on the research front, with Pfizer announcing that early analysis of its coronavirus vaccine showed it to be more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19. The company plans to request emergency authorization from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration later this month.
Even if it’s approved, however, it will be months before the vaccine could be broadly distributed across the country.
In the meantime, Congress could take meaningful steps in bridging the nation’s political divide, and easing its economic pain, by acting on another stimulus relief package. Since the start of the pandemic, Congress has passed four COVID-19 relief packages, totaling about $3.4 trillion, but talks on a fifth stimulus plan stalled leading up to the election.
The good news is Republican and Democratic leaders are talking again. But there remain fundamental differences in the size and scope of proposed stimulus aid, and it’s unclear whether the Trump Administration will even play a role in shaping the bill before President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
What has become clear in recent months is that COVID-19 has no geographic borders – domestically or internationally – or ideological boundaries. While the virus was twice as prevalent in blue states during the early stages of the pandemic, the breakdown evened out during the summer and is now significantly higher in Republican counties across the nation.
The takeaway is that COVID-19 is a national crisis and an equal-opportunity killer that commands the bipartisan attention of all elected leaders, and the people they represent. It’s in everybody’s best interest to set aside our political opinions and continue to take precautions to protect ourselves, our families, our co-workers and anybody else with whom we come in contact.
The past nine months have been dismal for everyone. But if we let down our guard now, it’s going to cost a lot more lives.
Terry Lynam is a communications consultant and former Senior Vice President/Chief Public Relations Officer for Northwell Health.